Adult boys become adult men in Meyers' first book of two short novels.
At face value, Episcopalian Father Stackpole and Gary, an art history professor, have little in common. In The Man Who Owned New York, which takes place in the early 1900s, Stackpole works for All Angels church, a congregation that invests, builds and prospers—all thanks to owning a big chunk of New York City real estate. When a Kansas farmer calls the church’s land ownership fraudulent, Stackpole is forced to reconcile his own beliefs in the separation of church and bank with the practices of his congregation, while simultaneously vying for the favor of the claimant’s beautiful daughter. In Springtime in Siena, a study trip in Italy is revealed to be a sex-cation, with Gary taking his part in seducing students and townspeople. On this trip, Gary, in his late 20s, finds himself attracted to a woman for the first time, and he confronts his growing interest in the opposite gender. The two novellas are similar and different at the same time. Both are written as memoirs and focus on the transition from frantic adulthood into genuine maturity. Both men are involved in intense relationships for their respective times. Stackpole’s actions are cautiously prescribed per the rules of 1900s courting but include stealing kisses and secret dates. Gary’s boldness reflects a free-love era that seeped into the ’70s. Each story has a dramatically different writing style that plays into the contrast. Stackpole’s story is told with antiquated language, which can feel contrived at times, even as the author fixes Stackpole firmly in time by using flowing sentence structures common in bygone novels, where women are ladies and anger comes off as a devastating betrayal. On the other hand, Michael lives among brusquely described encounters and desires, where sex is a four-letter word and mechanical detail in the bedroom is a matter of course. By expertly separating these stories using substance and style, the author presents two distinct American men in two distinct eras—evidence that the tumultuous transition into adulthood transcends time.
Two sharp novellas that vividly complement each other.